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An Externship Unlike Any Other

By Nikki Dowgos, SAVMA Editor in Chief

How do you describe an externship that had such a profound impact on your life and career trajectory? It’s hard to put into words the amazing experience I had during the month of April at the American Veterinary Medical Association Government Relations Division. As expected, I learned so much about legislative process as a whole and about what veterinarians can do to make an impact. What I valued most about this externship, though, is how much I learned about myself and the many veterinarians in Washington D.C.

I was very quickly immersed in the AVMA GRD agenda when I arrived. There was a sense of urgency to everything I was working on as Congress was quickly approaching Easter recess and there were many things that needed to be started before the two-week hiatus. I began working with one of the Assistant Directors, Alex Sands, on her project concerning the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (VMLRP EA). The bill was introduced in the 115th Congress, but it did not make it to the final stages. The goal of this project was to do research on specific states across the United States to evaluate how many designated shortages were filled in previous years and how many shortages there are for this current application cycle. By doing this, we were able to demonstrate the need to recruit and retain veterinarians in rural communities and garner support from members of Congress from many states! I found myself very passionate about this research and it was very fulfilling to work on a project that can ultimately improve the lives of rural veterinarians and their communities.

My time in Washington D.C. was a good balance of work and play. The peak cherry blossom bloom was occurring simultaneously with my first few days there, so I was able to walk around the Tidal Basin and see the beautiful Dr. Seuss-esque foliage after I completed some meetings on Capitol Hill one afternoon. I visited the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory and took a tour where I learned about medicinal plants as well as many plants endemic to different regions around the world. I explored the Library of Congress where I learned about the history of baseball and Central America through some of their temporary exhibits. One of my favorite places that I was able to go was the National Portrait Gallery and the Hall of Presidents. It was so incredible to observe such beautiful art as well as the portraits of all the presidents up to now. Many of them were so realistic that it appeared the subject could walk right out of the portrait! I really enjoyed being able to see some of the historic sites in Washington D.C. while on my externship.

One of the most exciting things about the AVMA GRD Externship is the fact that, as an extern, you have the flexibility to truly choose what you want to get out of the experience. Due to the two-week Congressional recess during my four-week externship, I decided to front load my experience with congressional hearings, meetings, and briefings. I spent the final two weeks meeting with as many veterinarians in D.C. that I possibly could. I met with veterinarians in a variety places throughout the executive branch like the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, Defense Health Agency, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). I also met with veterinarians from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), the Animal Health Institute, Merck Animal Health, and a professor from George-Washington University. They all had unique and interesting stories to share about how they came into their current position; I am looking forward to one day working in government and calling them my colleagues!

The AVMA GRD Externship was the highlight of my clinical year thus far. I thoroughly enjoyed taking a step back from the clinical side of veterinary medicine to see how decision-making and policies enacted at the governmental level can affect the everyday lives of veterinarians and pet owners. Coming into this externship, I knew that I would seek out ways to be involved in organized veterinary medicine upon graduation whether that be at the local level with my state Veterinary Medical Association or the national level like the American Veterinary Medical Association. This externship allowed me to fully explore the many different avenues I may be able to pursue to stay involved and I am truly grateful for the opportunity that the AVMA Government Relations Division provided. I highly encourage anyone with any interest in the nuances of policy and organized veterinary medicine to apply for this invaluable externship opportunity!






If you are interested in applying for this externship experience, applications are now being accepted for the 2020 AVMA Government Relations Externship Program. More information is available on the AVMA Website!

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